The Beaten Path: The Top 25 MMA Prospects for 2014, Part 1

Riley Kontek@@BigRIlesMMAFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2014

The Beaten Path: The Top 25 MMA Prospects for 2014, Part 1

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    Steve Mocco
    Steve MoccoDave Mandel/

    Another year, another set of potential big-show prospects are ready to make a run in a sport that has a seemingly endless supply of up-and-comers who keep promotions strong and stacked with talent.

    The Beaten Path is back in 2014 to bring you the top 25 MMA prospects to look out for in 2014. These are fighters (male and female) who have yet to make the UFC or a Bellator tournament and are young either in age or in the sport (even though there may be an exception or two).

    In evaluating these prospects, we looked for a combination of current ability and future potential that could carry them into the spotlight. Not only that, but we are using original prospects, so fighters who made last year’s list are not eligible for this one.

    So without further ado, let’s take a look at Part 1 of this series. Counting down from 25, we will give you the first 13 fighters to make this year’s top prospects list. The second part, counting down the top 12, will come Tuesday.

2013 List

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    1. Vitaly Minkov
    2. Jan Blachowicz
    3. Darrell Montague
    4. Josh Hill
    5. Brandon Thatch
    6. Takasuke Kume
    7. Alex Garcia
    8. Dileno Lopes
    9. Antonio Braga Neto
    10. Doo Ho Choi
    11. Elvis Mutapcic
    12. Rick Glenn
    13. Sean Strickland
    14. Max Nunes
    15. Bubba Jenkins
    16. Dhiego Lima
    17. Andre Fili
    18. Mirsad Bektic
    19. Musa Khamanaev
    20. Chris Beal
    21. Tyson Nam
    22. Michael Page
    23. Joe Ellenberger
    24. Darrion Caldwell
    25. Ilir Latifi

25. Jimmie Rivera

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    Division: Bantamweight

    Promotion: World Series of Fighting

    Record: 13-1

    Age: 24

    Country: United States

    Jimmie Rivera got a chance to compete on The Ultimate Fighter 14 and a few times in Bellator. In fact, he was tailor-made for a Bellator bantamweight tournament, but that never came, and he now fights for WSOF.

    Rivera is a power wrestler with a durable chin and good cardio. He grinds guys until they quit, as seen in respectable wins over Sidemar Honorio, Brian Kelleher and UFC vet Jared Papazian.

24. Carlos Eduardo

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    Division: Light heavyweight

    Promotion: Bellator

    Record: 11-2

    Age: 32

    Country: Brazil 

    Bellator is sitting on a light heavyweight gem and doesn't even know it.

    Carlos Eduardo is a Brazilian finisher whose last loss came in 2008 to none other than Jon Jones. Since then, he has been tapping and knocking out everybody in his path including Marcos Rogerio de Lima and Wayman Carter.

    Eduardo is one of many exciting future stars coming out of the Nova Uniao camp. I would be surprised if he wasn't featured in the Season 10 light heavyweight tournament.

23. Ashlee Evans-Smith

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    Division: Women's bantamweight

    Promotion: World Series of Fighting

    Record: 2-0

    Age: 26

    Country: United States 

    Fallon Fox was the talk of the women's MMA world for being the first transgender fighter in the sport. Her name disappeared quickly when she was put down by Ashlee Evans-Smith, who is now signed with WSOF and dropping to the ever-popular bantamweight division.

    She was a collegiate wrestling teammate of Invicta 115-pound champ and TUF 20 cast member Carla Esparza. Her takedown ability and ground-and-pound ferocity make her a fighter to watch this upcoming year at 135 lbs.

22. Ruslan Magomedov

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    Division: Heavyweight

    Promotion: Fight Nights

    Record: 11-1

    Age: 27

    Country: Russia

    The Fight Nights promotion seems to be a starting point for Russian talent that is bent on making a run for the UFC. Just look at some of the recent Russian signings.

    Ruslan Magomedov seems to be a shoe-in for the UFC, given his success in the company. In addition to beating Ricco Rodriguez in 2012, he beat former UFC champ Tim Sylvia and journeyman Mike Hayes this year to show he is ready for the big show.

    Magomedov is a good striker and an all-around terror. With the UFC's heavyweight division light on talent, he could make an immediate impact.

21. Anthony Hamilton

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    Division: Heavyweight

    Promotion: Maximum Fighting Championship

    Record: 11-2

    Age: 33

    Country: United States

    Speaking of heavyweights who could bolster the UFC, Anthony Hamilton is another guy worth a contract.

    Since hooking up with Greg Jackson in New Mexico, Hamilton scored the biggest and most devastating win of his career—a head-kick knockout of former top prospect Smealinho Rama to gain the MFC Heavyweight Championship.

    He is a big, powerful heavyweight whose only losses were to UFC veterans. With finishes in his last five fights, he is knocking on an opportunity to sign with one of the biggest MMA promotions.

20. Marat Gafurov

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    Division: Featherweight

    Promotion: M-1

    Record: 8-0

    Age: Unknown

    Country: Ukraine

    A little-known entity in the world of MMA comes in the form of Ukrainian Marat Gafurov, a ground specialist who is undefeated in the M-1 promotion.

    He is a sambo guy with wicked chokes and horrid joint locks. Not only did knock out fellow prospect Yuri Ivlev in his latest outing, but he owns a decision win over UFC employee Mairbek Taisumov last year.

    With his takedowns and grappling chops, in addition to the UFC adding talent from the Russian area, Gafurov has to be on Dana White's radar.

19. Scott Askham

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    Division: Middleweight

    Promotion: BAMMA

    Record: 11-0

    Age: Unknown

    Country: England

    While it was tough finding middleweight prospects for this list, Scott Askham was the exception.

    The current BAMMA middleweight champion has a perfect record in his 11 pro fights. He is a good kickboxer who has lately improved his wrestling and ground game, which has turned him into a true top middleweight outside the UFC.

    There are a few open spots on the upcoming UFC card in the UK. If Askham can break free of BAMMA, one would assume he is a top candidate to grab a spot on the card.

18. Lance Palmer

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    Division: Featherweight

    Promotion: World Series of Fighting

    Record: 7-1

    Age: 25

    Country: United States

    Until his recent late-notice title loss to Georgi Karakhanyan, Lance Palmer may have been the top prospect at featherweight. Despite that loss, he is still one of the best prospects going into 2014.

    Palmer is a power wrestler who is improving his striking with the rest of Team Alpha Male under Duane Ludwig. His notable wins over Jared Downing and Fredson Paixao illustrate his recent development.

    Imagine him in the next year or so. With the continued improvements he has made, one should assume he can be a top 145er in this sport.

17. Steve Mocco

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    Division: Heavyweight

    Promotion: Resurrection Fighting Alliance

    Record: 4-0

    Age: 32

    Country: United States

    Having Olympic wrestling in your background is a good start in MMA. Just ask Daniel Cormier.

    For Steve Mocco, it has him off to a 4-0 start in just more than a year of competition. Not only is he achieving the takedown, but he has showed his growth as a mixed martial artist by finishing three of his wins via submission.

    Training with American Top Team has him on the right course. Competing with RFA has him on an even better course, as that promotion is an unofficial feeder of the UFC.

16. Pedro Munhoz

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    Division: Bantamweight

    Promotion: Resurrection Fighting Alliance

    Record: 9-0

    Age: 27

    Country: Brazil

    Speaking of men in RFA, bantamweight champion Pedro Munhoz has a bright future ahead of him. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist is honing his craft at Kings MMA and Blackhouse, where he can quickly pick up striking techniques to make him a complete fighter.

    Wins over MMA pioneer Jeff Curran and Bellator vet Mitch Jackson are a good start for the 27-year-old Brazilian. A win over Billy Daniels at the upcoming RFA event would continue his meteoric rise up the 135-pound ladder.

15. Michinori Tanaka

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    Division: Bantamweight

    Promotion: Pacific Xtreme Combat

    Record: 9-0

    Age: 23

    Country: Japan 

    Though he is probably built to be a flyweight, there is no doubt that Michinori Tanaka is a top bantamweight prospect in the sport. Whereas some Japanese fighters fail when they join the UFC, I don't foresee that future for Tanaka.

    He is a ground specialist who owns all of his stoppage wins via submission. Plus, at the age of 23, he is only going to get better.

    Wins over Kyle Aguon, Crisanto Pitpitunge and Russell Doane highlight this Japanese prospect's promise.

14. Carlos Diego Ferreira

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    Division: Lightweight

    Promotion: Legacy Fighting Championship

    Record: 9-0

    Age: 28

    Country: Brazil

    Just like a meteor during the days of the dinosaurs, Carlos Diego Ferreira has burst onto the scene and laid waste to the division.

    A jiu-jitsu specialist, he has vastly improved his striking, which has made it easier for him to set up takedowns. His latest win over Jorge Patino shows that he is ready for a step up in competition.

    Add to the fact that he is the Legacy Fighting Championship lightweight champion, and you have a future big-show staple.

13. Sean Santella

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    Division: Flyweight

    Promotion: Cage Fury Fighting Championships

    Record: 13-3-1

    Age: 29

    Country: United States

    Arguably the best flyweight not in the UFC right now, Sean Santella has taken a solid wrestling background and combined that with a great team at AMA Fight Club to rise to the top of the 125-pound rankings.

    With the UFC signing guys like Darrell Montague, Alp Ozkilic and Josh Sampo to the flyweight division this year, it's a wonder why they didn't snap up Santella as well. He is proven against top competition, with his last loss coming in 2011 against top bantamweight prospect Aljamain Sterling.

    The submission wrestler has to be on the UFC wish list heading into this year.

    *Check in on Tuesday for Part 2 of this series, which will reveal the top 12 prospects of 2014.